Should I leave Catholicism?

Question: I am very concerned as I am a catholic and was wondering if our Lord meant that my church is Babylon and to leave the church, because of all the scandal that it has been going through lately. do you think I have reason to be concerned?pope-francis-2-300

Answer: There have been Protestant interpreters who have identified Babylon with the Catholic Church in the past and probably some who still do, but I find this interpretation very questionable. It is designated as a city, and though it is said to sit on seven hills in some translations (as Rome does), if the word here means mountains instead that would not apply to Rome. If mountains is intended it would be symbolic rather than strictly geographical, mountains representing places of power and authority. Babylon would be in control of seven kingdoms in this interpretation.

I think the best reason to leave the Catholic Church would not be for the scandals of late. Every human organization will have fallen human beings doing bad things that need to be dealt with. That is why Jesus taught a way of dealing with sin in the church in Matthew 18:15-20. The reason you should leave it is if it is in disagreement with the clear teaching of Scripture. Protestants have had problems in this arena with the fact that the Catholic Church, in our opinion, has obscured the gospel and the way of salvation, making it seem too much like it depends on our works to get us to heaven rather than the finished sacrifice of Christ. Martin Luther’s concern was that the Bible teaches justification (being declared righteous before God) by faith alone.

Protestants have also disagreed with vesting authority in one man in the church, and even with the councils of the church, as they can be fallible and it would seem to have indeed failed to preserve the teaching of Scripture. We see Scripture as our final authority, though we value the tradition of the church as a help to correct interpretation of Scripture.

Do you know that you have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you being taught in your faith to grow in grace and becoming more Christlike in your life? Is the church helping or hindering this process? Can you learn from both sides of the aisle? Do you really give allegiance to the Pope? These are the kinds of questions I believe are most important to answer in this consideration.

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Why Are There Different Religions

Question:  Why are there different religions?

Answer:  I suppose the simple answer is that people are sinners.  And because people are sinners they will find any possible permutation of religious elements that make sense to them and that gets them off the hook from worshiping the true God.

In Romans 1:18-26 Paul asserts that the truth about who God is, His eternal power and “godhead”, is known to everyone.  It is made clear through creation so that no one has an excuse to say, “I couldn’t find God.”  However, as Paul points out, we suppress that truth.  We want to live our lives the way we want to, not at the dictation of our Creator, so we bend the truth in order to make religion palatable to us.  We can’t escape that there is this religious reality…God…but we can distort the truth enough to feel less pressure to submit to Him.

Consequently we shape God in our own image and when you do that you have to have a different form in which to pour that image and, viola!, you have a new religion.  It also becomes a pathway for some to power as they define what the religion looks like and what its doctrines are and as they dictate the practice of it.  Eventually as your family and maybe your whole society embraces this it becomes a tradition that you cannot deny and still be viewed as part of your community.

Now, to be fair, we need to distinguish between different religions and different expressions within the same religion.  If you compare Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, for example, you will find that each is mutually exclusive of the other.  You cannot consistently hold to one and hold to the others as well.  But within Christianity there are varieties of expression of the same basic doctrines, and the same is true for Hinduism and Islam.  There is Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy within Christianity but they hold many of the same basic beliefs.  Some of this is tied to differences in personality or culture, some to variations as to which doctrinal beliefs are most important.

The possibility always exists, however, that some version of worship that was compatible within the larger religion can move toward “heresy” and become incompatible with the beliefs and practices of the major religion.  Sometimes they will acknowledge that and declare they are no longer a part of that religion, but sometimes they want to stay in the fold even though they have contradicted its major tenets.

All this to say, there are different religions, religions that depart from the revealed truth about God, because people are sinful and they yet cannot refrain from being religious and salving their conscience by having some form of worship.

 

What is the difference between Roman Catholicism and what Central Church teaches?

Paris - Latin Quarter: Église Saint-Séverin - ...

Image by wallyg via Flickr

Question: : What is the difference between Roman Catholicism and what Central Church teaches?

Answer:The differences can be broken down into several categories:

AUTHORITY: Protestants (Central Church is a Protestant church) do not accept that the Pope, the bishop of Rome, is the final authority for the church, nor is he infallible when he speaks from his position of authority. His word holds no more authority than any other man of spiritual accomplishment. We may appreciate his wisdom, but do not take it as law. We also respect the traditions and councils of the past, but we do not see them as binding. Only the Bible can be the arbiter for our decisions about what God wants us to be and do as His Church.

SALVATION: We believe that a right relationship with God cannot be achieved by doing good works. In fact, if we are depending on our works to get us to heaven we will be sorely disappointed. Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). We are “saved” (rescued from the penalty of our sin, which is death) by faith alone, that is, by trusting in Christ’s provision of forgiveness (entire forgiveness of sins past, present and future) only, not our own efforts to be good. However, the faith which receives God’s free gift of eternal life is never alone. It will always produce good works in the one who truly believes. Paul said in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

We also do not believe that you have to be a member of the Catholic Church to be in God’s family (http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1999/9909frs.asp). Faith in Christ transcends denominations. To be fair, there are some Protestants who in essence believe that if you are not a part of their denomination you are likely not saved, but this is wrong.

SCRIPTURE: Protestants are encouraged to read and study the Bible, whereas, at least in the past, Catholics were not. There are variations of interpretation of the Bible within Catholicism, but not anything like among Protestants. However, it is Protestants who have furthered the progress of Bible interpretation far beyond the Catholic scholarship, though Catholics have made significant contributions. But this is because Protestants see the Bible as available to everyone and the only authority by which we discern God’s will.

There is also a difference in the amount of value placed on the Apocrypha, a group of books written after Malachi and before the New Testament that Catholics include in their Bibles. Catholics give much more authority to these books than do Protestants, as evidenced by the fact that few Protestant Bibles even include them.

SACRAMENTS: Protestants, Central Church included, only believe in two rites of salvation, baptism and the Lord’s supper. Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), Penance (confession to an ordained priest and assigned acts of contrition), Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders (ordination of bishops, priests and deacons), and Matrimony make up the seven sacraments for Catholics, who define these as “efficacious signs of grace perceptible to the senses” through which “divine life is bestowed” and which are “necessary means of salvation for the faithful” (Wikipedia, Sacraments of the Catholic Church).

Protestants do not, for the most part, believe that baptism or the Lord’s Supper are necessary means of salvation, but do see them as essential to the blessing of our lives and encouragement to spiritual growth once we are saved.

Protestants also do not see the elements of the Lord’s Supper, the bread and the wine, as in any way actually becoming the physical body and blood of Christ. Lutherans believe that the physical body and blood of Christ surround the elements during the Lord’s Supper, but other Protestants, including Central Church, believe the elements symbolize the body of Christ and that he is present in a spiritual sense only when we partake of the supper in faith.

PRAYER AND CONFESSION: We do not practice praying to the saints who have gone before us. In the Catholic confession, though all believers may be called “saints” in a general sense, there are those who have elevated themselves by exemplary lives and performance of miracles who have then been enshrined by the church as official Saints of the church. These people are often called upon in prayer, particularly Mary, the mother of Jesus, to bring their requests to the Lord Himself. It is assumed that they have the ear of God in a way we might not and can aid us in getting our requests answered. At Central Church we believe that we have just as much access and just as much the ear of God as any other believer because we come through the merit of Christ. We do ask others to pray for us, and may feel they have a better chance of being heard than we do, but this is essentially wrong. There is value in having many pray, not because God will be more persuaded to respond, but because it is a way of showing our love for one another.

At Central we encourage confessing our sins in situations with other believers where a bond of trust has been established and an accountability can be maintained. There is no need to go to an ordained individual for this purpose, though there is no discouragement from doing so.

LEADERSHIP: Though we ordain men to the ministry and assign them responsibilities to lead God’s flock, we also believe that every believer is a priest before God, with full access to Him and full rights to exercise decisions of conscience. We will seek advice and direction from leaders, but do not see leaders as exercising authority more potent than their example. Believers are told to obey their leaders (Hebrews 13:17) but leaders are encouraged not to “lord it over” the flock (1 Peter 5:3).

For further study from one facet of the Catholic Church about their distinctive beliefs visit http://www.catholic.com/default.asp.

Randall Johnson

Why doesn’t Central observe Lent?

Question: : I was wondering how come we at Central do not celebrate Lent and Ash Wednesday? I know a lot of people associate this with the Catholic Church, but many other non Catholics celebrate Lent. I have attached a good write-up on Lent.

Answer: The article you attached was very instructive and the question is a good one. In the article it mentions that “Lent is a forty-day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the day before Easter Day.” This period is marked by fasting. It also says, “By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days,” and “All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent.”

In 1500 the Protestant Reformation began to question all things related to the church and sought to measure all proscribed activities by the Bible. In the article it says, “The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles.” But in point of fact, there is no authoritative record of the apostles commanding this observance, since the only authoritative record the Protestant church would accept is the New Testament.

One of the best known reformers, John Calvin, writing in his Institutes of the Christian Religion about fasting, spoke of the “superstitious observance of Lent” in which “the common people thought that in it they were doing some exceptional service to God, and the pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ.” But he argues that Christ did not fast to set an example for us to follow but to demonstrate that he received the Law from God’s hand as did Moses. He mentions also that various parts of the church observed different numbers of days of fasting, some three weeks excluding Saturdays and Sundays, some six, some seven, and differed in what could be eaten, some eating only bread and water, others allowing vegetables, some excluding fish and fowl only, and others making no distinction in foods. In other words, there has never been a uniform rule in the church.

There is nothing wrong with preparing ourselves for Easter by using fasts and observing historical events (holy week commemorates Christ’s last week in Jerusalem, Good Friday the day of his crucifixion, etc.). It is wrong, however, to make it a required observance or to suggest that those who observe it are more spiritual than others. For this reason it has become in our tradition something that is up to the individual believer to determine for him or herself.

Randall Johnson

Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

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Question: What are graven images when it pertains to pictures or statues of Christ? Is it wrong to hang them in our homes or have them in our churches? Is it wrong for us to paint them or sculpt them? I had a friend share an awesome video that prompted someone to attack them and tell them how sinful they were for worshiping a graven image, even if that image was of Christ. He said we are not to try and capture the image of Jesus.

Answer: I do not believe that this is what the commandment refers to. The commandment in Exodus 20:4,5 reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” The problem was trying to represent the invisible God with some image that enabled the worshiper to capture the essence of who God was and so manipulate Him into giving the worshiper what the worshiper wanted. Many times the image of a bull (representing strength and virility) or a cat (representing wisdom) or some other animal was represented. This is the sin of idolatry.

Jesus came as a human being and we do not know what he looked like, but we know he looked like a man. There is no “graven image” we could make of him to represent him in a way that “captures” his essence in a way that we can use to manipulate Him. If we resort to worshiping such a representation then we have crossed over into idolatry. We are investing the image with some spiritual power to get God to act on our behalf.

Interestingly, this issue was one of the sources of conflict and separation between the western church (represented by Rome) and the eastern church (represented by Constantinople). They are known today as the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox congregations made a lot of use of “icons” or paintings of Jesus and Biblical scenes. The Roman church accused them of idolatry. This was also an issue of whose authority the churches would obey. The western church insisted that the Pope was the leader of all the churches, but the Orthodox churches obviously disagreed. It led to the great schism between the two around 1,000 A.D. and the solidification of variant views of what constituted Christian orthodoxy. Protestants have historically shied away from any use of images or statues, though they have utilized stained-glass images quite frequently. Most Protestants have no problem with a picture of Jesus in their homes or churches. I would suggest that your friend’s attacker is a bit on the fringe of things with his belief.

Randall Johnson